Next Generation Initiative paves the way for award-winning research

July 24, 2023

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — Poverty may not be the sort of thing one sets out to study, but for Davis Daumler, inequality and its long-running effects are topics of social importance that demand high-quality research and sustained policy action.

“I consider myself a scholar of inequality,” said Daumler, a Ph.D. candidate whose work has been shaped by several different centers at the Institute for Social Research. “And it started with a question I asked myself a long time ago, thinking about intergenerational mobility and income. I was intrigued by the dynamics of poverty and wondered: how much does the length of time you spend in poverty matter long term?”

Daumler has worked on that and other questions tied to poverty, wealth, and social mobility throughout his time at ISR, a journey which began thanks to ISR’s legacy of quality long-term data on many different population sectors.

“ISR has longevity that is pretty unparalleled across survey research organizations,” he said. “It has this storied history that really drew me to the University of Michigan when I was initially making decisions about where to pursue my Ph.D. ISR was a big part of that.”

Coupled with the University of Michigan’s sociology program, ISR has helped shape Daumler’s journey toward his Ph.D., providing the resources he needs to shape his study. Throughout his time with ISR, Daumler has drawn on the Survey Research Center, the Population Studies Center, and the Stone Center for Inequality Dynamics as he works on his dissertation, which explores how social inequalities are impacted by changing family dynamics, which have taken place across multiple generations of American families.

“Existing research has shown us that children who experience early-childhood poverty tend to have worse socioeconomic consequences than children who experience later-childhood poverty. However, it’s not necessarily the case that poverty is more harmful for young children than it is for older children. In my research, I present evidence showing that these timing effects may be explained by differences in cumulative exposure. Children who are born into poverty are often the same children who are experiencing poverty at older ages, in adolescence and even in early adulthood.” 

Daumler’s research was fueled in part by awards from the James Morgan Innovation in the Analysis of Economic Behavior Fund and the F. Thomas Juster Economic Behavior Research Fund, both which helped him free up time to focus on research.

“I think sometimes there’s this assumption that people doing quantitative research can just churn out research really, really quickly, but I think to do a good job and be careful in your analyses, you need time,” said Daumler. “And a lot of times as a grad student, your time is spent chasing funding to continue your research, so these funds really helped free up that time. Without it, my process would have been a lot more lengthy and costly.”

However lengthy and costly the process may have been, it appears to have paid off. Daumler’s paper was recognized with the 2023 Robert D. Mare Graduate Student Paper Award from the American Sociological Association’s section on Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility.

He doesn’t plan to stop there, though. After he finishes his Ph.D. work, he wants to continue his research into the big questions of poverty and inequality, an investigation that sometimes doesn’t always have a clear path forward.

“It kind of feels sometimes like you’re a detective. You get to ask a question and then go and collect the data to be able to answer it.”